June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
K-12 & Pre-College Engineering
13.202.1 - 13.202.11
Analysis of K-12 Engineering Education Curricula in the United States--
A Preliminary Report1 Abstract
A number of initiatives in the United States have attempted or are attempting to develop or promote opportunities for K-12 students to learn engineering. For the most part, however, there is little evidence of what works, little agreement about how these efforts might be judged, and little understanding among the policy and practitioner communities about which initiatives sit on stronger or weaker theoretical foundations. This paper discusses preliminary observations from an analysis of nearly two dozen K-12 engineering curricula, conducted as part of a major study of K-12 engineering in the United States. Among other factors, the analysis examined the mission and goals of the curricula; the presence of engineering concepts, such as analysis, modeling, systems, and constraints; and the use of mathematics, science, and technology.
Efforts to include engineering in the educational experiences of U.S. K-12 students are motivated by several concerns. For example, the engineering professional societies and many industries that depend on engineering talent have expressed concerns about both the number and quality of students graduating from engineering schools in the United States. Although experts disagree about the existence of a true engineering “shortage” in this country, there is no disagreement about the fact that women and certain minorities are seriously underrepresented in engineering studies and in the engineering workforce.2 Nor is there disagreement about the desirability of making students more aware of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career options. Thus one motivation for exposing children to engineering prior to college is the desire to correct imbalances in the engineering pipeline as well as make the pursuit of science and engineering careers more appealing. The problem-solving orientation and teamwork characteristics of engineering are also deemed desirable workplace attributes more generally,3 suggesting another possible benefit of encouraging engineering thinking in the primary and secondary grades.
Many in the science and mathematics education communities believe that an engineering focus, particularly design activities, provides valuable context, application opportunities, and motivation for student learning as well as teacher engagement. 4 5 Design approaches to science teaching can focus student attention on solving specific problems, as in the Learning by Design (LBD) method developed by Kolodner et al.6 LBD purposefully links the design aspects of problem solving with an “investigate and explore” phase, which in significant ways resembles and reinforces the process of science inquiry. Fortus et al.’s 7 design-based science units have a similar orientation. Modeling and design activities can also be used very deliberately to illustrate and make concrete science concepts, such as mechanical advantage.8
The technology education profession, for its part, is striving to respond to the new emphasis on engineering spelled out in the Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of
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